The recent confirmation that the Dutch women’s side will after all be playing in an ECB national competition this season is a welcome development, especially since the team is still in a rebuilding phase which demands that the emerging young players gain as much experience as possible.

It had seemed at one time that the lower divisions of the ECB’s one-day county competition would fall victim to the introduction of a franchise system for the top players, and that the best the Netherlands and Scotland could hope for would be participation in some form of regional league.

But wiser counsel has evidently prevailed, and the Dutch women will now be playing in one of four Division 3 groups, with at least the theoretical prospect of promotion to Division 2.

KNCB chair Betty Timmer was understandably pleased at the news: ‘We are delighted that the women’s team will again be playing in the ECB county competition this year,’ she said last week.

‘It is an outstanding preparation for our women for the European World T20 qualifier [taking place in Scotland in August], and the presence the Dutch side in this regional competition will doubtless be seen by the ECB as giving it additional value.’

The Netherlands’ opponents will indeed mostly be south-eastern counties – Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Hertfordshire – the one rather odd exception being Shropshire in the west of England.

Last year the Dutch side finished sixth in a nine-team Division 3, just above Scotland. None of the other sides in that national league are among this year’s opponents: Essex were relegated from Division 2, while Hertfordshire and Shropshire were champions of the two regional Division 4 sections.

The difficulty of moving to a regional Division 3 structure is illustrated by the fact that the other two, Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire, both finished bottom of those sections, which suggests that there will be a considerable range of quality in the new system.

But for emerging young batters like 17-year-olds Babette de Leede, the KNCB’s women’s player of the year, and Sterre Kalis these matches will provide excellent opportunities to make further progress, while more experienced team-mates such as captain Esther de Lange, Miranda Veringmeier and Heather Siegers – the last currently enjoying a summer playing club cricket in Perth – will again form the core of the side.

With a reduced programme it may be easier to field a settled team: 19 players turned out in last season’s eight games, and only De Lange, De Leede and Veringmeier were ever-present. But the concentration of the schedule at the start of the season, when many players have examination commitments, may prove a difficulty.

Another improving teenager, Lisa Klokgieters, will again be a key member of the seam attack, while De Lange’s off-spin remains vital to the team’s success.

Important as the development opportunities provided by the ECB One-Day Cup undoubtedly are, the main business of the summer will be that World T20 qualifier at the end of August.

The Dutch women will be keen not to repeat last season’s disappointment, when they beat Scotland in the ECB competition but then lost the World Cup qualifying series against Scotland 3-nil.

This time there are two places on offer in a three-team T20 tournament which will also include the USA as well as Scotland. The two top sides will progress to the global qualifier, with the World T20 championship itself scheduled for the West Indies in November 2018.

The full ECB programme is:
Sunday, 30 April Buckinghamshire
Monday, 1 May Cambridgeshire
Sunday, 14 May Shropshire
Sunday, 28 May Essex
Monday, 29 May Hertfordshire

The group winners will play the winners of Group B (comprising Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire) on Sunday, 27 August.